And They're Off!

Elections are invariably more messy, more contingent, than they may seem in advance, and the coming year's Democratic presidential primaries are unlikely to prove an exception. Former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), who has fervor, volunteers and money to burn—and now, with former Vice President Al Gore's endorsement, has begun to pick up major establishment support—could effectively

end this thing as early as Feb. 3. Or not. On that date, his opposition could be winnowed down to a sole anti-Dean—retired Gen. Wesley Clark seems the likeliest prospect—who'd then duke it out with Dean in subsequent primaries. Or not. The power of the voters is often the power to confound—in the primary process, state by bloody state. Herewith, then, a cheat sheet on who's strong where, what to expect and what defies augury.

Washington, D.C., Jan. 13 (0 Delegates)

Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), John Edwards (D-N.C.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Clark have pulled out of the inside-the-Beltway nonbinding primary, turning it into a beauty contest between Dean and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Dean is strongly favored.

Iowa caucuses, Jan. 19 (45)

There are two races to watch in Iowa: Gephardt-Dean and Kerry-Edwards. (Lieberman and Clark have dropped out.) Dean has visited all 99 counties and has more than 100 staffers working out of 14 satellite offices. Among his legions are Dean Corps community-service groups, Generation Dean student organizations, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Meetups in nearly every county and supporters nationwide sending handwritten missives to Iowa's undecideds. Gephardt, also with 14 Iowa offices, is relying on the United Auto Workers, the Teamsters, other unions in Iowa and the surrounding states, and the long memories of Iowans who helped him win the caucuses in '88. After maintaining the lead all year, Gephardt was passed by Dean in early fall. So Gephardt went on the offensive, attacking the erstwhile governor from the left on Medicare—an issue dear to caucus voters, 40 percent of whom are seniors—to regain a lead he seems now to have lost again (after Dean retaliated with a negative ad on Gephardt's Iraq War resolution). Dean's recent endorsement by Gore boosts the governor's fortunes and reduce the chance of the lead shifting several more times before caucus night.

If Gephardt doesn't place first, it will be hard for him to continue. If Dean is second, he's still in good shape, but his momentum heading into New Hampshire is considerably quelled.

Candidates who get less than 15 percent support at any caucus in the first round of voting get eliminated, and their supporters either align with other candidates or go home. So far, only Dean, Gephardt and Kerry have polled above
15 percent, though Edwards was closing in on Kerry in one late November poll. But the Kerry-Edwards race will only matter if Edwards wins and can get a boost en route to New Hampshire. Kerry's best—though feeble—hope of unseating Dean in New Hampshire may be to beat him, or Gephardt, for second in Iowa, besting expectations and generating some momentum. Dean and Kerry, now both freed from the shackles of spending caps, are pouring more money into the state than it's ever seen.

In Iowa, as in all the Democratic contests, delegates are awarded proportionately, but the media primaries remain winner-take-all. It will require 2,159 delegates to win
the nomination.

New Hampshire primary, Jan. 27 (22)

This race is Dean's to lose. Every poll in recent weeks has shown him with a 14- to 30-point lead over Kerry among Dems, and a similar margin among independents, who can vote in this election and tend to like outsider candidates (see John McCain and Bill Bradley, circa 2000). One year ago, Dean's and Kerry's standings in the polls were reversed. Kerry may be unable to continue the race if he loses New Hampshire. His at-least second-place finish once seemed assured, but if he continues to look weak in New Hampshire and in the South, that may give an opening to a candidate who comes in with a large amount of money, such as Clark. Anyone who can knock Kerry out of second in New Hampshire will be able to get a considerable lift heading into the Feb. 3 states. By December, Kerry and Dean each had 11 offices in New Hampshire while Clark had nine. Third place in New Hampshire is irrelevant. In the modern primary system, no Democrat who has placed worse than second in New Hampshire has won his party's nomination.

Mini Tuesday, Feb. 3 (269)

In the 2000 election, fully 53.5 percent of Democratic voters in South Carolina (45) were black. As many as half
of all state primary voters in 2004 are expected to be black as well, which explains why Sharpton hopes this will be his breakout state and why a surprisingly high percentage of South Carolina Democrats say they want a candidate who opposed the war in Iraq. For months this looked to be a straight up-and-down Edwards-Clark contest in a conservative, pro-military state. Edwards must win here or he's out of the race. Right now the field is bunched, with one poll putting Edwards ahead while Clark leads in another. But Sharpton has also polled as high as second. Gephardt is targeting the state, too, attacking Edwards on affirmative action while promoting his own stance on trade to beleaguered textile workers.

Missouri (74), the Show Me State, will probably show us naught but hometown loyalty to St. Louis' Gephardt. The North Dakota (14) caucuses will be a win for whoever can get voters to the more than 600 sites; in 2000, only 2,188 people voted. Gephardt and Dean have staff on the ground.

The Arizona (55) primary is wide open. Edwards was the first to hire staff here but may have peaked early; Kerry has the largest staff but questionable buzz; Lieberman amassed early endorsements but is losing traction. Meanwhile, Deaniacs are swarming. Clark arrived just recently, but watch him take on Kerry among veterans and retired East Coasters. In New Mexico (26), a caucus state that's 42 percent Hispanic, Gov. Bill Richardson has all but endorsed Dean (as chairman of the Democratic National Convention in July, he can't do so officially). Dean has run ads in Spanish and English and has three times more staff than the others. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) may also place, thanks to the state's strong Green Party and his ties to the Taos New Age set. Lieberman, increasingly a niche candidate in search of niche voters, has made sure to visit Delaware (15) more times than any other candidate and led in a fall poll, with Dean second.

This day also marks Oklahoma's (40) first time in the February spotlight, and "sooner" really is better. While Oklahoma had not a single visit from a Democratic primary candidate in '92, '96 or '00, this time around Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards and Dean have all made multiple trips and organized strong coalitions. Clark set up shop in late November and could tap into the state's conservative vibe and four military bases. The long-shot outcome: Gephardt, Lieberman, Edwards and Clark split the moderate vote so that Dean triumphs in this conservative state. If Dean can do this here and in other southern or western states—as Michael Dukakis did in several southern states in 1988—the race could be decided this day.

Democrats Abroad caucuses, Feb. 6 (7)

An anti-war internationalist wins the hearts and ballots of Francophile expats.

Michigan and Washington state, Feb. 7 (204)

If Dean can't lock up the race early, the Michigan (128) caucuses will feature a crowded dash for delegates. Count on the Teamsters to mobilize votes for the Gepster. This will be our first chance to see who can really speak midwestern. Citizens can participate from the comfort of their own couches, as the state will offer Internet voting and mail-in ballots, in addition to 576 caucus sites statewide. Dean leads narrowly in the polls, especially among those who plan to vote online, with Gephardt and Clark bunched close behind. Washington (76) is the Starbucks ghetto's ground zero, full of Microsoft technocrats and anti-war, anti-globalization activists. Breaking the chair neutrality rule, state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt endorsed Dean in August. About 30,000 to 40,000 people have voted in past caucuses; last August, 15,000 rallied for Dean in Seattle alone.

Maine caucuses, Feb. 8 (24)

This scrappy moderate northern Republican state will likely favor Dean, the scrappy descendent of moderate northern Republicans, or Kerry, if he's still around.

Tennessee and Virginia, Feb. 10 (151)

Until the Gore endorsement, Tennessee (69) looked to be a battle between Clark, who led narrowly, Edwards and Lieberman, if he's still in the race. But the Gore endorsement may make Dean a player here and in other southern states. Virginia (82), for Democrats, epitomizes the new South. With a Democratic governor, loads of single D.C. suburbanites, a roaring high-tech sector, defense contractors galore, top-flight universities and a substantial African American population, it's truly up for grabs. Clark, Dean, Edwards and Kerry are fighting hard here.

Washington, D.C., and Nevada, Feb. 14 (40)

D.C. (16) does it again, this time in caucuses that select actual delegates. Candidates will also take a gamble on Nevada's (24) caucuses this day in a state with no clear front-runner.

Wisconsin primary, Feb. 17 (72)

Another open contest. Deaniacs abound in this maverick state, bolstered by a large campaign staff and fall TV ads. Edwards, Kerry and Clark are also on the scene. Wisconsin is another labor state—the state teacher's union has recommended everyone except Lieberman and George W. Bush, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and AFSCME have already backed Dean. Clark has been endorsed by Wisconsin's lieutenant governor. It's well to note that Wisconsin Dems are not only Madison liberals but also midwestern moderates. The scant polling thus far shows Clark, Dean and Gephardt bunched at the top. If there's no runaway horse at this point, Wisconsin could give someone a leg up heading into Super Tuesday.

Idaho, Utah and Hawaii, Feb. 24 (61)

Idaho's (18) caucuses come in an overwhelmingly Republican locale, and, according to one of the state Democratic Party's two employees, are just "not real important." Anti-Ashcroft rhetoric plays well with local Dems and the black helicopter crowd. Gore didn't visit equally Republican Utah (23) in 2000, but Dean, Kerry and Sharpton already have in 2003. In liberal Hawaii (20), where no candidates have paid staff, Meetups for Clark and Dean could provide a boost.

Super Tuesday, March 2 (1,151 delegates)

Today is the delegate mother lode and the day that can end the race, if Dean hasn't already nailed it down. California (370) is the biggest prize. Dean has the California Teachers Association, along with AFSCME and the SEIU—three unions that total nearly a million members in the state. The SEIU has real clout within the growing Hispanic electorate. But even without the unions, Dean would be favored to win a primary long dominated by social and foreign-policy liberals, particularly in the Bay Area and on Los Angeles' west side. Like Dean, Clark has close ties to Hollywood dollars and plans an intensive air war in this state.

The two big Super Tuesday states are the ones where cash matters most; you cannot fight for New York's (236) primary voters without pouring dollars into the most expensive media market in the country, even as you have to shell out simultaneously in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Right now Dean leads in New York, with Clark and Lieberman bunched close by, and if Lieberman drops out, those voters may not go to Dean. AFSCME and the SEIU could deliver the state to Dean with their clout in the city's outer boroughs. Watch for Sharpton to get more votes on his home turf than polls predict; he's bested expectations each of the three previous times that he's run for office in New York.

Ohio (140) is 146,000 manufacturing jobs lighter since Bush took office, so the Buckeye State is prime territory for a candidate with new ideas. So far only the native Kucinich has opened a campaign headquarters, though he may not even make it to March. The Cincinnati Enquirer has called Dean Ohio's most visible candidate, noting that Clark and Gephardt, with labor's help, have started organizing as well. On Super Tuesday, Ohio may be third prize, but if the race is still unsettled, a Dean victory here could all but end it. Conversely, if Dean loses here to Gephardt or Clark, the winner could be anointed the last man standing against Dean and get a boost in the following week's southern contests.

Kerry and Dean both launched strong campaigns in Minnesota (72), but this liberal, anti-war state is likely to go to the latter in its caucuses. A bit of math: Only 11,000 voters turned out for Minnesota's 2000 caucuses. The SEIU and AFSCME, which represent almost 80,000 Minnesota workers, back Dean. This year Georgia (86) may provide the day's only breath of relief for a southern anti-Dean, depending also on how Ohio goes. Clark leads narrowly in the polls.

The three New England candidates' home states also vote this day. Vermont (15) will go for native son Dean. Massachusetts (93) is likely to go for Dean as well, unless and possibly even if Kerry is still in the race; a late November poll showed Dean besting the senator by a 9-percent margin. Connecticut (49) is a toss-up between Dean, who had pulled within striking distance of home-state favorite Lieberman by November, or Lieberman, if he's still running. Rhode Island (21), meanwhile, is likely to break for whichever candidate is leading nationally; Dean, Kerry and Lieberman have polled about even in the state. Dean and Lieberman lead Maryland (69), home to working-class Baltimoreans and scads of liberal D.C. bureaucrats looking for good schools.

American Samoa, March 8 (3)

We know from nothing about American Samoa.

The South rises again, March 9 (465)

Today is a day for a southern anti-Dean, should one have emerged. Texas (195) is the day's big prize. Voters must cast ballots in the primary and attend an evening caucus to select delegates, a process that favors the well-organized. Dean was the first to go on the air in Texas with an anti-Bush ad last summer, but Clark intends to challenge him for the Lone Star State's votes. Liberal, high-tech Austin has been a Dean stronghold; Clark, meanwhile, may poll well with the rest of the state's sizable African American and Hispanic communities. Contenders in Louisiana (60) must meet a 15-percent threshold to earn delegates. Mississippi (33) has a heavily black Democratic voting population, and the Confederate flag issue is sure to pop up again here.

Florida (177) weighs in late, as usual. At press time, Dean, Lieberman and Clark were bunched at the top of polls. If Lieberman's still running come March, the politically active
bubbies and blue hairs in southern counties like Broward and Palm Beach may back him—or Dean, with help from Gore. Clark will draw votes from Florida's 1.8 million vets and more conservative northern Floridians. (Edwards, if he's still around, may also spark with the Deep South mood here). The Interstate 4 corridor, home to those ubiquitous soccer moms, is yet undecided, and the African American and non-Cuban Hispanic populations—concentrated in southern and central Florida—are completely up for grabs.

Kansas, March 13 (33)

A caucus state, its voters like Bob Dole, not Democrats (except for state offices), and could favor a plainspoken moderate.

Illinois, March 16 (156)

Possibly the last state to matter, where the winners of Super Tuesday and Southern Tuesday could fight to the finish. Gephardt's midwestern clout could mobilize some votes, lots of big unions will weigh in and watch for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Dean endorsement to rally Chicago's south side for the former governor. The Daley machine is staying out of the race for now. (Its support for Bill Clinton in '92 was crucial.) The early buzz on the mayor is that he won't endorse in the primaries, but stayed tuned for any signs of a Clark affinity. This state has decided more nominations than any other, and here, if not earlier, we should have our nominee.

Pennsylvania, April 27 (151); North Carolina, May 4 (90); New Jersey, June 8 (107)

Then again, should the race go down to the wire, there are three big states that vote late. Pennsylvania has no clear leader in the polls. In North Carolina, hometown boy Edwards leads but may not still be in the race. Dean has ranked a solid second in this mecca for college-age youngsters, but it's unclear who will win Edwards' backers if he's gone. Jersey girls and guys lean Dean, though Lieberman, Kerry and Clark were grouped close behind him in a mid-November poll.

And then …

When the battle's done, or sooner, the party's 715 unelected "superdelegates" take the field to shoot the wounded and anoint the winner—historically, the candidate with the plurality of delegates. Should that candidate be Dean, and should his lead be very slim, the superdelegates—chiefly members of Congress and the Democratic National Committee—may go for the second-place candidate if the conventional wisdom deems him the stronger challenger to Bush. But if Dean emerges with a plurality of any size, a move by the superdelegates to derail him would surely cause a civil war inside the party—something the superdelegates would never risk.